It’s the season of Christmas Card photos. Photographers are bleary-eyed from hectic schedules and late-night editing. So many families are stepping in front of cameras. We know we tend to drag our men in front of the camera, but are we personally fighting all kinds of demons about getting in front of that lens, ourselves? (I sure was.) While I love to have people in front of my lens, I’m quite content to remain behind it. And, while I can see the beauty of any other woman who steps in front of my lens, the thought of getting in front of one myself, brings out the worst kind of self-consciousness.However, we needed a new family photo, y’all. Yes, it was definitely traditional family-photo season, but the real clincher, was that our last family photo was 4 years ago. (I had on braces.)
Gasp! I know. I know. As a photographer, who encourages people to get in front of the lens, I’d let our own family images slide. So, when Wedding Photographers, and friends, Jason and Melaina Photography , started advertising their Family Minis, it seemed like a good idea to jump on board, but it also had me second guessing myself.
Should I wait? I mean… those pounds that I worked so hard to shed over a year ago, have made their way back on. I’m back to my gym routine and food diary, now….so maybe I should wait. These will be hanging on my wall for years to come….maybe I should wait.
(This next part, is long, and filled with vulnerability, but if you bear with me, I promise I do get to a point about the topic. )
My own struggle with self-image, and for me specifically, my weight, began when I was very young. I remember around 2nd grade thinking I was “fat” because I happened to have very thin, stick-like, friends. (I look back now with adult-eyes and see a very normal, healthy, looking little girl. I was not in the least over-weight.)
My mother had one of the very early Stomach Reduction surgeries, when I was eight years old. So, I think weight loss was something that I became very aware of even in my early years. Without even realizing it, I internalized so many things about appearance. Thinner meant better. Thinner meant pretty. Thinner meant people would like you. Thinner meant boys would like you. Our culture pounded it in my brain. So, even though I was actually fairly average, it never felt like it.
As I grew up, those thoughts never subsided. I was very shy and introverted, and just-plain-awkward at any type of athletic endeavor, definitely not a natural “exerciser”. (I may still be scarred about that one time a P.E. teacher insisted I try to jump a hurdle when I told her I couldn’t. It went pretty much like you envision. For real, Teach. It isn’t gonna happen. She insisted. Bam, I was flat on my face in front of a group of lovely, 7th grade athletic girls, all able to hurdle-jump like gazelles. It was a real confidence booster.)
I hit college and realized I liked running. I was slow. Painfully slow, to be exact, but it was something I could do on my own. No-one was watching me. Between that and the demands of a Master’s degree program, I was actually a very slim bride at my wedding. My weight fluctuated a bit with marriage, but after my first child, I found myself regularly at the gym, and once again an “acceptable” version of myself, after working hard for about a year.
Then our second child arrived. Since we were foster-adopt, here I was, a cute-little, size 6, walking around with a brand-new baby. I relished those comments of, “Wow, you look amazing.” (And if you are wondering if I corrected most of them on the fact that said baby didn’t originate from my body, No. No, I did not.) However, a new baby meant that life got crazy and visits to the gym infrequent. I was now a mother of two, and my body started changing (Left-over Mac-n-cheese, people). I started having hip problems when I did work out. Thus, the gym became just another building I passed on my way to other places.
Fast forward. I had hip surgery and ovarian surgery in the same year. I was laid up quite a bit. About a year post-hip surgery, my pain returned. It hurt to walk, let alone exercise. I limped a lot. I saw a picture of me at my highest weight ever. I wanted to cry. I did cry.
I hired a trainer. Her commitment to my health was amazing. With her help, I slimmed down a bit, but more importantly, my hip grew stronger. My pain reduced to the point of being negligible. I was stronger and I felt good. I kept a running diary of my food intake. While burdensome, it was the only way that the reality of calories I consumed, stayed at the forefront of my mind.
But, Life. I was busy. I got lazy. My food diary got sporadic, and so did my gym attendance. My clothes started fitting poorly and I made my way back to some “big” clothes that were in the back of my closet.
So, what does all of this personal, revealing saga have to do with family pictures? Well, I’m back at the gym. I’m back to counting calories. Again. So, the thought process was there. “Maybe I should wait and drop some pounds before investing in photos. After-all, these are images that will be on the wall for the world to see,” (Yes, Y’all. The world enters my living room and looks at my pictures.) Thankfully, there was a tug-of-war with another thought. “I shouldn’t wait.” Praise the Lord, this thought had been getting some strength training, and it won. This was important. I needed to embrace the now.
We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Regardless of what I see in the mirror, or what other’s see, do you know what my sons see? They see their momma. They may see a crazy-not-so-perfect momma, but they see their momma. Despite what I think about my appearance, being in pictures with my family, speaks of the value I put on our interactions. It documents a time in our life, that will be fleeting. And, if tomorrow was to bring anything unexpected, I was there. I was there with them. They will easily remember, because I’m visible in the pictures.
My personal tendency is to think that the only ones who struggle with being in front of the camera, are those of us who struggle with being a little “fluffy” like me, but that isn’t really true. I’ve listened as too many clients critique things about themselves. I’ve read too many posts where women I viewed as “perfect,” be-moaned things about their appearance. We all do it. It’s a problem. (Thankfully there are also voices trying to drown those self-loathing thoughts out. Thank you, Jenna Kutcher and like-minded perception changers.)
While I want you to see yourself as amazing, I know from my personal struggles, that it can be difficult. As a photographer, I also know that many of our perceived flaws can be addressed through proper posing and lighting. (See how I’m tucked in behind the guys, above, making my fluffiness less noticeable?) I always want my clients to tell me if they are self-conscious about anything. Get real with me…Umm, cause you just read about my 7th grade hurdle jump, soo….. Since my clients aren’t me, I just tend to see their beauty and can forget that they struggle with insecurities as well.
However, I hope there is something else that you can learn from my vulnerability here. I put a picture on my Christmas card where I have a very prominent belly roll. It wasn’t nicely disguised by my clothing, or posing, because it was a natural moment. So, when I saw the picture, I cringed. I honed in on my flaw. But, then I took in the picture as a whole, it became one of my favorites, because it was my life.
I love to laugh. I may do it too often. I find so many things hilarious, that people probably shake their head in wonder. But, me being crazy and having fun with my boys is the most beautiful thing to me, and it is something I want them to always remember. I have no doubt that in years to come, they won’t see that belly roll. They will see their not-so-perfect-mom, who loved them so much it ached. They will see their mom who would laugh hysterically at their antics, and sang loudly in the car, while they begged her not to. They will see the woman who cuddled them and prayed for them. Belly roll, be hanged. You aren’t important here.
Side note: While I struggle with practicing self-love, I do practice what I preach about getting images in PRINT. My family images, despite any flaws, are prominently displayed on our wall. (For the world to see😉) Most importantly, they are in my direct line of sight when I sit in my chair with my morning coffee. I smile at them on a regular basis. I love them, because they are us in the now.
I do want a healthy lifestyle of strength. So, if those pounds come off again, we can do family pictures again. Regardless, I will never regret being present in pictures with my children. So, if this raw, heart-on-the-table, probably way-too-revealing, post does anything, I hope it reminds you that you aren’t alone. I hope it empowers you to step in front of the lens with your family this next year. I hope it encourages you to put images up on your walls, even if you see imperfections, because those who love you think you’re the most-perfect you.
We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we can always choose to treasure today. Today is beautiful, flaws and all.